Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014: Colombia - in-year update December 2015

Published 21 April 2016

Although Colombia’s trajectory on human rights was positive during this period, human rights abuses across a number of sectors remained a concern, including protection of human rights defenders (HRDs), victims of sexual violence, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and disappeared persons. The government of Colombia published its annual report on human rights in December 2015, following a five-year hiatus. On 9 December 2015, the Colombian government also became the first country outside Europe to publish a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, supported by the British Embassy in Bogotá.

Formal negotiations to end 50 years of armed conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been ongoing since November 2012. The peace negotiations have reduced violent conflict considerably. On 23 September, both sides reached a landmark agreement on transitional justice, as well as rural development, political participation and illegal drugs. On 15 December, agreement was reaffirmed on establishing a truth commission, victim reparations, and punishment for war criminals. The announcement on victim reparations will apply to all perpetrators, including civilians, state agents, and members of the Armed Forces, as well as guerrilla entities. Both parties have committed to signing a final peace agreement by 23 March 2016. At the time of writing, two points are still to be negotiated: the “end of the conflict” and “the implementation of the peace deal”. The UK government confirmed that resources from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) would be dedicated to Colombia in spring 2016. CSSF projects support the UK’s work with the Colombian government and civil society to prepare for the implementation of the peace agreements.

On 25 October, Colombia held its regional elections to appoint local governors and mayors for 2016-19. President Santos called the elections “the most peaceful in recent history” and reported December as the most peaceful month for over 40 years. The British Embassy monitored the elections as international observers with an independent Colombian electoral watch-dog, the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE).

During 2015, crimes such as killings, forced displacement, enforced disappearances, death threats, child recruitment, and crimes of sexual violence continued. By 31 December, Colombia’s National Victims Unit reported a total of 7.8m registered victims since the creation of the Victims Law of 2011. 512,000 victims have been compensated since 2011 (31,144 victims in 2015) to the value of £680m. Limited resources are a significant challenge for compensating victims; 90% of registered victims are still awaiting compensation. Internal displacement is still occurring on a mass scale. The Victims Unit reported that, between January and December 2015, more than 78,000 persons were forcibly displaced as a result of the conflict (a decrease from 2014 when 249,000 were displaced). The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported 166,000 IDPs in 2015, (or an average of 17,000 people per month during the three years of peace negotiations). In 2015, there were 2,308 investigations by the Attorney General’s Office for “false positive” killings, which include senior officials, and 903 members of the Public Forces received condemnatory sentences.

The situation for HRDs remains concerning. Colombian NGO Somos Defensores (“We are defenders”) reported 63 HRDs murdered and 539 threatened in 2015. Threats increased 10% from 2014 and murders by 13%. According to Somos Defensores, impunity for crimes against HRDs remained high, with an average of a 10-year wait for a court ruling on murders of HRDs. The National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movice), a group of more than 200 human rights and victims’ organisations, declare paramilitary groups are still present, and have recorded several attacks against their members. The Colombian Attorney General announced the creation of a team to prioritise investigations of crimes committed against HRDs and communitarian leaders. In 2015, the British Embassy funded a project to develop a protection protocol for HRDs in rural contexts through the Committee for Human Rights (CPDH), working with the National Protection Unit and the Ministry of Interior.

The UN ranked Colombia as tenth in the world for feminicide in 2015. On 6 July, President Santos signed a “Feminicide Law”, strengthening Colombia’s legal system to tackle violence against women. On 22 October, a group of national and foreign NGOs denounced the State’s serious failings to guarantee justice to sexual violence victims before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. According to their figures, in the absence of systems to prosecute cases of violence, 82% of cases go unreported, and those reported have a 98% rate of impunity. According to Colombian National Police data, there were 19,703 reports for sex crimes from January to November 2015, a significant increase compared to 2014 (9,541 cases) and 2013 (11,142 cases).The UK has supported a number of initiatives on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI). In 2015 the UK government funded a project to create a network of over 300 victims in six regions with a local organisation, Corporación Mujer Sigue Mis Pasos (Woman Follow My Footsteps Corporation – CMSMP). This network created local prevention plans using the UK’s International Protocol to document over 120 cases of sexual violence. The networks worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office, the Judicial Branch, and the Victims Unit to increase criminal reports and seek redress for victims and survivors; over 1,200 reports were made by December 2015. As part of the project with women’s networks, the Embassy and CMSMP launched a communication campaign in November focusing on women and sexual violence. We are also working with Colombia’s Gender Advisor for the peace process negotiations to ensure that the transitional justice agreement properly reflects sexual violence, based on victims’ proposals.

According to a report by the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), between January and August 2015, 28 indigenous leaders were killed, and more than 3,400 suffered human rights violations, including nearly 2,000 cases of internal displacement. Afro-descendant communities continued to be the target of threats, displacement and killings as a consequence of the armed conflict in their territories. In August 2015, FARC members killed an Afro-descendent leader from Nariño, a crime recognised by FARC delegates in Havana. According to UN OCHA, 18% of IDPs were afro-descendant.

After 10 years of legal advances and 70 favourable rulings by the Constitutional Court, the Court lifted a restriction on adoption by gay couples in November, overturning a previous ruling that had banned same-sex partners from adopting unless one of the pair was a biological parent of the child. The Constitutional Court’s decision means that Colombia now joins a small handful of nations in Latin America (including Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina) that allow same-sex couples to adopt. The government is currently developing a public policy presidential decree to protect LGB&T rights.

Two journalists were killed during the second half of 2015. On 10 September 2015, journalist Flor Alba Nuñez was murdered in Huila. On 23 November 2015, journalist Dorancé Herrera was murdered in Antioquia. The Foundation for Press Freedom reported that 110 journalists requested protection measures due to serious threats during 2015. According to Reporters Without Borders, Colombia is ranked 128 among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.

Despite the efforts made by the government in the last decade to modernise and strengthen the justice system and its institutions, Colombia remains one of the countries in the world with the highest levels of impunity (see the University of the Americas Centre for Impunity and Justice Studies’ Global Index of Impunity, 2015), with estimates that range from 85% according to media reports, to 60% according to the Colombian Ministry of Justice. Levels of impunity for crimes against HRDs are reported at 100%; for victims of sexual violence within the armed conflict at 98%; and 9 out of 10 murders remain unpunished. In 2015, Colombia ranked 62 out of 102 countries in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. Lack of trust in the criminal justice system and the perception of institutional corruption are reported higher than most countries in Latin America according to this index. Access to justice and the rule of law are central priorities for the UK in Colombia. The UK appointed a Criminal Justice Advisor from the Crown Prosecution Service in November to work in partnership with the Colombian Attorney General’s Office and other domestic criminal justice stakeholders to enhance Colombia’s capacity to tackle organised crime.

The UK supported the Colombian government’s commitment to human rights issues throughout 2015. Our focus on three priority issues – PSVI, Business and Human Rights, and HRDs – made a tangible difference. The UK raises specific concerns around human rights with the Colombian government on a regular basis.